Silverlight TV

Silverlight TV Episode 2: Perspectives on Flash and Silverlight

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Mike Downey (Principal Evangelist) shares his experiences with Flash, Flex and Air and discusses how they compare with Silverlight's offerrings. Hear Mike, a former Flash evangelist for 9 years before coming to Microsoft last year, discuss his decision to switch to Silverlight and what incredible projects he has already influenced with Silverlight.

For more information see the Flash to Silverlight Guide



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    The Discussion

    • wisnia

      I love SL but there is still one thing standing on it's way to be the best rich web technology - cross platform.

      SL Works great on IE but no so good on other browsers. Also other OS compability is lacking.


      But hopefully MS will work on that and we will se SL all around Smiley

    • DavidQMora

      We had Mike presenting a more detailed version of his Flash to Silverlight adventure last week at the Portland SLUG. What I liked was that he spent no time badmouthing Adobe's platform but instead presented the strenghts of each. Of course, as he mentioned, he finds the Silvelight platform a better alternative and he explained why.


      At the meeting we had a few long-time Flash experts present and they, as Mike said, kept the spill honest. It was interesting to see their reactions and their curiosity aroused by the presentation. They were definitely interested in learning more about Silverlight. I think that is a testament to Mike's clout and credibility in the Flash community and the way he is handling the evangelism part so that it entices that them to at least take a closer, open-minded look at Silverlight.


      Nice show. Thanks!

    • Chris​Stepaniuk

      Yes, I agree.  When the player loads on my Mac, the playback controls are in the center of the black square, but the full screen and buffering works smoother on my Mac than Windows.


      About the video, it's great hearing that when people who come from the non-Microsoft world try out Visual Studio and realize it's more than just notepad.  I know many people who use Word, Excel or Outlook all day, I use Visual Studio all day.

    • phillipkerm​an

      I was one of the "long-time Flash experts" at the meeting.  I agree Mike did well not to badmouth Flash.  In fact, I think he did well to educate many of the SL folks who (with all due respect) seemed super un-aware of Flash.  I mean, I almost wondered which Internet they were on. But... my big takeaway was that SL developers use SL because of the tools... they're familiar and they believe it's the most portable for their teams etc.  Now as a Flash developer I might be slanted--but I really believe my clients choose me/Flash because of the capabilities of the player.  Many times I get to work on a project because of a feature that is either new and unique to Flash player or just "better" in Flash player.  Never have I had a client balk at Flash because of the underlying tools and language.  In fact, if I had to use AS1 they could care less--they just care about the result.  My take is that many/most/all SL folks care more about the tools and language than they do about the result. 


      Ultimately, my take is that SL is trailing capabilities wize than Flash Player. 


      Also, I think SL folks are .net vetrans that would not in a million years use Flash (many times for unwaranted reasons).  Where, all the Flash folks I know--including myself (and Big Spaceship as the video mentioned) would be glad to try SL.  Why not?  Who cares about the language?  With all due respect to MSFT users, a programmer can learn whatever language comes along.  Flash/ActionScript is certainly a real and capable language.  Plus, it seems (from my perspective) that there's a large community of Flash/Flex folks.  So if the underlying language is important, ActionScript has some advantage.


      Sure, I realize VS is a great tool.  And C# or whatever language may have some advantages here or there.  I don't want to discount that... I'm just saying this is not the reason my clients (including, for the record, MSFT indirectly for games I've programmed that run in MSN Messenger and on choose Flash.


      So, if SL is just a way to give .net folks a way to do "ria stuff" then great.  If it's supposed to kill Flash, I dunno.   I think the whole video picture is where the battle will ultimately go.


      Finally, I look forward to learning more about SL and to help any .net/SL folks learn about Flash--though MD is doing a pretty good job at that (which I sincerely believe is a good thing for MSFT)

    • CKurt

      Very Very Very good show! The comperison to Air , Flex and Flash was really good, although it could have used some slides to really visualize the difference.


      One thing I always hated aboud flash was Actionscript, it was bad and not OO but they fixed that with Actionscript 2.0 or so. But still I know why developers would love C# comming from that language. C# feels like a real coding language, not a scripting one.

    • gbrayut

      I would also say that cross browser and cross platform comparability is the major thing that makes someone choose Flash over Silverlight. Microsoft has done some good work in this area, but there is still a long way to go before Silverlight can be seen as a clear and substantial winner over Flash for all users.


      Case in point: I tried to access the site using Google Chrome on Windows 7 and was presented with an error saying that my browser does not support Silverlight. Funny thing is that I actually do have Silverlight 3 installed in Chrome and it works just fine everywhere else. This is probably an oversight by the webpage designers and not necessarily Microsoft's fault, but it does show the kinds of compatibility problems that are still present in Silverlight but not in Flash.

    • jopapa

      gbrayut - Thanks for the feedback on your experience. One thing that is being worked on is having support for Chrome in Silverlight 4. Stay tuned!


      Thanks for watching, everyone!

    • MarauderzMY

      The Google Chrome 'issue' is because Silverlight 3 is not officially supported by Microsoft, and some weird problems do occur ie. The infamous black background when should be transparent problem. On my sites, I'd present the Chrome users with additional instructions on how to handle the 'Chrome is not supported' screen on the Silverlight site. 

    • LTres

      It's realy good to hear that coming from a older flash developer. I'm starting to use Silverlight to LOB applications. We made some researchs to choice between Silverlight and Flex. We decide to use Silverlight because the features, the strong C# language and the great integration with Visual Studio. We belive that is the better choise.

    • irascian

      Another very good episode. Somehow it's getting the balance between being a super-slick corporate production (the studio, the way the video is shot and edited) and being relatively laid back and informal (mainly down to John's excellent presentation style, but this time round down to his guest refusing to do the traditional over-enthuse thing) just right.  Excellent stuff!  Well done to everybody involved, and I'm looking  forward to future episodes.


      I DO think folks need to be careful with the whole "cross-browser" thing. I managed to get myself into a position where a Silverlight application looked how I wanted it to in one browser but was seriously broken (visuals all 'off/truncated/squashed) in another, and different again in a third.  On that occasion I had some great help from Shaun Wildermuth and eventually cleaned up my code so that what I'd intended was what I got in all the browsers (although I never really got to why the first cut hadn't done what I'd expected it to do). But if I'd just taken the "cross-browser" pitch at its marketing level and not tested in Firefox, IE and Chrome (and Safari on a Mac - which I didn't check either way) I'd have got a hell of a shock (yes, I appreciate Chrome isn't officially supported - the irony being that Chrome actually rendered the stuff the way I'd expected it to look).

    • TK20109

      Mike's name certainly attracted immediate attention as I know him from many years using Adobe's suite of design and development tools and working on betas for new product. I came to our shop, a Microsoft Gold Partner, as more of a designer than developer, and I still use Flash extensively. Silverlight 1 and 2 offered little to convince us to switch technologies. The install base for SL is still exceedingly small compared to Flash. Our recent work on a large-scale WPF application for use in our nation's public schools has provided XAML experience within our developer team. Visual creation appeals to me more than code, so I prefer Expression Blend over Visual Studio, but I know XAML and can work in either IDE. Our Mac-oriented designer is totally committed to Flash, of course.


      Now, the current requirement is to deploy secure content to thousands of schools running Windows, Macs, and Linux on all variety of hardware and connections. Everything we produce must be fully Section 508 accessible, too. I'm putting together proof-of-concept apps using both AIR and SL4 beta to see how far we can go with each. But I fear neither will capture the prize. Advancements in out-of-browser support will help tilt the scales, as will full-feature support on all three operating systems.  

    • BorekB

      I was very interested in this episode and listened carefully (twice, actually) but am I right that the only advantage of SL over Flash/Flex/AIR mentioned was the single runtime installation for the OOB apps? I am currently a Flex developer and there are several things that make me want to switch to SL (C#, Visual Studio's productivity, better video etc.) but smaller desktop runtime as the only thing mentioned? That was a little disappointing as I didn't learn about the other reasons and why Microsoft evangelists think they are important (if they do).

      I'd also like to comment on other things I've heard in the show:

      • At about 6th minute Flex was compared to the full .NET framework. Mike talks about how .NET targets many more scenarios than Flex which is obviously true but I'm still wondering how that helps me understand the differences / similarities between Flex and the Silverlight SDK (obviously you don't develop in the full .NET framework when you target the SL runtime; SL is also a small, focused runtime and framework).
      • Mike said that "Flex is built on top of Java" which I'm sure he knows isn't true (he probably meant that Adobe ships a separate server product built in Java that Flex apps can communicate with, amongst many other supported server technologies).
      • Also, while I agree that SL4 will be much closer to what Adobe AIR can do, SL3 was also mentioned in the video and in Silverlight 3, OOB is not similar to AIR in any way (SL3 OOB is a sandboxed technology; that changes in SL4 to some extent although AIR is still much more "native" and feature-rich).

      It's a shame that we didn't hear more about WHY Mike believes in Silverlight. Even more entertaining would be to hear about Flex deficiencies but I understand that that must be difficult for Mike to do publicly Smiley

      And John, thanks for asking interesting questions as someone who doesn't have much experience with the Flex/Flash ecosystem.

    • Keoz

      I don't think so, Flash/Flex environement is not as powerfull as VS/.NET/SL and for Flash to win they have to mature the dev part, is not all about video but how you get things done fast and reliable

    • JulesK

      Absolutely, I can believe that the Flash platform may still have more capablities thaan SL at  present.  But if it is a pain to develop in, or conversly the C#/ Visual Studio is seen as beiung far more productive, then the $ for development will migrate towards SL.  Its no good saying that developers can pick up any language, in the real world we are under pressure to be productive, to deliver compelling Apps in tighetr timescales and $.   


       I can also believe that Flash/Flex developers are 'better programmers', and more 'aware' than the typical .NET programmer ( and that Linux experts are more capable than typical Microsoft platform experts etc).  But where does that get them ?  A scarce and expensive developer vs a common cheaper to train and more productive .NET developer. Its a no brainer, that is why C# and Visual Studio is critical to MS mainatining a strong developer base.  I for one cannot be ar$$ed to try an gets to grips to new languages and tools, life is too short.  Especially when the feature gap between Flash and SL is shrinking.  


      The only point I would concede upon is that MS (and MoonLight) have to improve upon multi platform support.   And yes, I can believe that Mac users, and Graphcis designers are probably not yet impressed by MS Expression Studio toolsets.   But then MS has left the door open for third party tools to spit out XAML designs.

    • phillipkerm​an

      First, I find it interesting that the capabilities (and reliability) of the plugin seems to matter less to many folks than the perceived quality of the programming environment.  If only I could live in such a world.  Say a contractor repairs your house--do you care what tools he/she uses?  No, you care about the result. 


      I do see some value to the claim that a better programming environment could lead to more robust end results.  Naturally, I don't believe the question as to Flash/Flex/ActionSript being an inferior envoronment has been proven. 


      There are other considerations too... like what the developer base is like (and for those in the .net world it can appear that there are tons of those folks around... of course for Flash-heads it looks the opposite).  No one has mentioned the reliability of the plugin.  Some pointed out SL has issues cross browser etc.  One thing you can't debate is the fact Flash player is solid... and performant.


      Finally, the argument that "life's too short" to learn a new language--that's just plain whack.  Is anyone using the same tools they were 10 years ago?  I know I'm not.  If you don't adapt to changes you can forget it.  In fact, this is a good argument why I should learn SL.  It's just that I don't ever hear of any SL jobs... and I hear of tons of Flash stuff.   I'll be trying to change that by hanging with the SL folks a little more.



    • mikedowney

      You shouldn't be experiencing cross platform issues with Silverlight. Please DM me with specifics and I'll make sure your feedback gets back to the product team.


    • mikedowney

      If you have any example files please send them to me so I can give them to the product team. I want to make sure these types of issues are dealt with right away.


    • mikedowney

      I also felt that Silverlight was trailing the Flash Player in capabilities until I learned of the features in Silverlight 4. While there are still a few small gaps, Silverlight 4 really catches up to FP10 and surpasses it in some significant ways - like having most of the AIR 2.0 functionality built into the runtime itself (instead of requiring a separate install).


      Here's a good guide to the SL4 features:


      It's also important to recognize that Silverlight was only first introduced about 2.5 yrs ago. The pace of development is quite remarkable.


      At some point I intend to write a blog post on about SL4 features vs FP10.1. As soon as I get some free time...


      Mike Downey

    • mikedowney

      Google Chrome is not officially supported by Silverlight 3 but it is supported by Silverlight 4. This is purely due to release timing for each of the products.


      Regarding the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show site ( it gave you an error because I asked the developers to present that error to anyone trying to view the site with Chrome as we did not want to test the site against an unsupported browser.

    • mikedowney

      508 Accessibility is actually an area where Silverlight beats Flash Player. Do a few *Bing* searches and you should fine some great info.


      Mike Downey

    • mikedowney

      I also felt that Silverlight was trailing the Flash Player in capabilities until I learned of the features in Silverlight 4. While there are still a few small gaps, Silverlight 4 really catches up to FP10 and surpasses it in some significant ways - like having most of the AIR 2.0 functionality built into the runtime itself (instead of requiring a separate install).


      Here's a good guide to the SL4 features:


      It's also important to recognize that Silverlight was only first introduced about 2.5 yrs ago. The pace of development is quite remarkable.


      At some point I intend to write a blog post on about SL4 features vs FP10.1. As soon as I get some free time...


      Mike Downey

    • mikedowney

      Good points. It was a short interview and I didn't have time to get into much detail. I intend to do a comprehensive blog post comparing the two platforms (which is sure to be controversial).


      I plan to go into details about things like Silverlight being multi-threaded, the CLR being faster than AVM2, better data management, better tool chain, and the advantages of the Silverlight SDK vs Flex framework. I just need to free up some time...


      Regarding Flex, I meant that it's geared towards a Java back-end. The Flex framework is written in ActionScript 3.0 but the IDE (Flash Builder) is built in Java (Eclipse), the original Flex 1.0 server was built in Java, and the LiveCycle Data Services ES - a server that enables binary communications with Flash Player using a proprietary protocol called AMF (Remoting) - is also written in Java. I do believe the Flex compiler is written in C++ though.


      Mike Downey



    • Cecil​Champenoi

      Are there plans for the other Browsers to add in Silverlight functionality? Which browsers, besides IE, are now able to use Silverlight?

    • jopapa

      Cecil - Silverlight 3 is supported today on IE, FireFox, and Safari. Silverlight 4 will offer Chrome support. See this page for specific details of browser support, under the system requirements section.

    • phillipkerm​an

      one thing I'd add: bragging SL's file size is less than Flash (say flash+air is like 20MB) is not an important point.  Plus, consider SL isn't really as small as you say when you include the rather large patches that user's get via auto-update.

    • DerrickM

      I learned SL after spending six months developing Flex, so I think I have a good feel for both from the viewpoint of a developer.  Ultimately it's true what people assume--it's more natural for a .net developer to gravitate towards SL, and java programmers to tend towards Flex.  However, as my SL skills increased I came to more fully appreciate how incredible SL is as a development technology.


      IMO the learning curve is a little harder than MS portrays, but the architecture is very natural once you get used to it.  Two or three full-time weeks and you're not cussing any more.  But I could say the same about learning .net when it first came out.


      I especially love the fact that you can take almost any control and re-skin it to suit your purposes.  If the control was written well, you can re style it very easily without a lot of pain. 


      In terms of developer experience, it's probably not fair for me to compare since I was new to Eclipse, and had many years' experience with VS.  Both have been surprisingly unstable (crashing, etc.), but VS was definitely more predictable.  It didn't do things that I couldn't explain, or require a project to be "cleaned" to start working again.  Blend does sometimes require me to close and restart to get around what appears to be internal project caching.  VS2008 does crash a lot with SL projects, (Blend occasionaly crashes too).  After spending six months with each environment; there's no way I would ever go back.  VS enabled me to be far more productive than Flex/Eclipse.


      Two big keys to being productive these days are being able to deal with webservices and xml.  I found SL/VS to make consuming my own webservices almost trivial.  Easy and 100% rock solid.  When using a webreference (generated proxy class) you get strongly-typed variables and built-in support for 2-way binding (via ObservableCollection).  In six months of development I have never had one single problem or limitation in this area.  Now, if I wanted to avoid webreferences and interrogate the returned xml from somebody else's service, I found it easier in Flex.  Since my original project was written in Flex, I tried this approach at first when porting to SL and it was difficult.  Since I controlled the services and didn't need to worry about the services changing without me knowing (and recompiling my SL project) it was an easy choice.  But, I wonder how difficult it will be the first time I need to use somebody's returned xml without using a precompiled proxy class.  As for XML itself, I definitely found it MUCH easier to use XML in SL than in Flex.  As I recall, Flex used an approach similar to .net's linq whereby the 'xpath-like' instructions are compiled into the app that made it difficult to slice into documents based on variables (e.g. MyXMLElement.Descendants(MyNameVariable).FirstOrDefault()).  I remember that I overcame this in Flex, but it was much more natural (for me anyway) in SL.


      One thing that might not matter to an end-user, but matters a lot to me, is compilation time.  I run my app (with 20k+ lines of C# and xaml) scores of times each day, with the debugger attached.  SL/VS beats Flex/Eclipse hands down in this area.  I'm not talking about milliseconds; I'm talking about real time that adds up over a work week.


      As for runtime speed and performance in the browser, I didn't really have any complaints with either.  Both seem acceptably fast to me, and run consistently in either browser (firefox or ie).  Some 3rd party SL components run slowly in VS with the debugger, but that's been the only complaint I've ever had.  From the user's perspective I think both technologies work great.  I can't speak to download sizes, because I'm not at work right now, and my SL project has grown to many times the size of the original Flex project anyway.  For the record, my medium size SL3 app runs perfectly in Chrome, even though it's not officially supported.  I also can't speak to anything related to video or sound, as I don't do that kind of work.


      My biggest complaint so far has been than Blend is rather slow, and that VS2008 is painfully slow to open xaml files.  (Like 45 seconds to open a 1000 line .xaml file).  I'm hoping that VS2010 will improve this situation.


      I like the fact that SL is evolving fast.  Developers want right-click support, printing support, mouse wheel support, clipboard access, etc.; and MS is listening.  I haven't had the luxury of trying out SL4 beta, but I'm looking forward to it.  This gives me comfort that I'm backing the right horse; that I'm not stuck with some platform that may or may not make it in the marketplace.


      One big shortcoming for both environments is 3rd party components.  I think component companies (at least the few I've worked with) are a little behind the curve.  This is probably more true of SL, since it's changing so fast.  Not to say there aren't quality components to be had--we're using a number of 3rd party components with nominal results.


      My advice for any new SL developer would be this: make all your components (ui) properly skinnable with default control templates from the start.  Resist the tempation to emit controls from your C# code or implement other stuff that the next guy (or gal) can't extend by editing a copy of the control's template.  And learn to use Blend--watch the MS videos, and spend time with it. 


      I used to like winforms and GDI stuff with .the 2.0 framework, but this is light years ahead of that.  You can craft a very rich UI with little effort AND have it be extensible (and run over the internet, of course...).  And don't even get me started about you've cursed while doing ajax/dhtml stuff this is going to be like going to heaven for you.


      This may be one of the coolest things Microsoft has done yet!

    • phillipkerm​an

      Nice overview DerrickM.   If only you had tons of pure AS experience too... but good enough.  ActionScript 3.0 (and therefore Flex) supports E4X for digging through xml a lot easier.   



    • BorekB

      That blog post, if you find time to write it, would be a fanstastic read! Subscribing to your blog now Smiley

    • codenenterp

      I really enjoyed this episode of Silverlight TV.  It gave some great looks into flash and how the relate to each other, and was delivered in a way that made both technologies look great.  I really like when companies take the approach of comparsion with out insulting.,  Way to go guys.



    • Weqster

      While tooling is one part of the equation, i think another important part would be .NET itself. Silverlight is a peice of the .NET puzzle that simplly put, gives my application more meaning when delivered through the browser. When i develop an N-tir application, and my other tiers are written in .NET there has to be an overwhelming need for a feature that sl does not support to choose that to deliver one of my GUIs in. I can write clean, event driven code with my own framwork of share librarys, my testing is uniform and my deployment is uncomplicated.


      I can understand a web developer whos target audience is dettached group of users may not see these advantages. If your focus is on a standalone shrinkwrapped app for clients then alot of this doesnt matter. But for alot of devleopers who employee .NET in enterprise solutions, you can understand our hesitation before jumping to flash... We see silverlight as an extension of our reach, giving us the ability to express ourselves over the internet, just as we would from the desktop. And this is a massively powerful concept. We have known about flash for years (and ive dabbled in it) but the need has not been there to make a jump from static ASP.NET. Silverlight gives us the perks of flash, without incurring any other overheads...

    • raymond

      Would like to see a longer detailed version on this topic.


      Former Flash web designer and developer.



    • mikedowney

      > bragging SL's file size is less than Flash (say flash+air is like 20MB) is not an important point.


      Not true at all. It is a very important point. AIR is a very large runtime and that has a huge effect on downloads. Even though broadband is fairly prevalent today, any "plugin" downloads larger than a few MBs have huge drop-off rates. 


      My meta point is that in SL4 you get most of what both Flash Player and AIR give you - all in a single runtime that is much smaller than the combination of Flash & AIR - and you only have to ask your visitor to install a single piece of software. Plus, Silverlight is already far more prevalent than AIR so you'll have a smaller percentage of visitors who need to install anything at all. Silverlight is in the 45-50% penetration range and AIR is between 10-25% depending on who's numbers you look at. That matters.


      > Plus, consider SL isn't really as small as you say when you include the rather large patches that user's get via auto-update.


      I don't know what you mean by this. Silverlight doesn't install updates any differently than Flash Player does. And I don't believe we push updates as often either.

    • phillipkerm​an

      Your main point (one runtime for desktop and browser) is clear to me now.


      I still don't buy the filesize issue.  In fact, I'd say SL has a disadvantage as you can do the seemless install with Flash (to something like 99.99999% of the web).  Yeah, there are drop off rates, but no one's going to avoid SL (except a few yahoos) if it's the only thing in the way of the Olympics for example.



    • bentleyw

      Mike seems like a huge asset to the MSFT team.  I really like hearing the Flash perspective related to Silverlight.


      I think Flash is amazing, performance-wise.  If MSFT can get SL to work as well as Flash, I think it'll be an easy choice for future projects because of the development advantages.  But still, no discredit to Flash.  They started the fire, and continue to burn strong.



    • elliotrock

      Still waiting for the video to work, has this site been tested in Chrome? 

    • elliotrock

      Perhaps an idea is to reduce the bitrate of the video or use a media server. In Australia we in general have crap connections (still on copper) so it is more important to get the playing experience right or at least provide a choice (with different bitrates as well) of SD/HD. It is way too high, (get it lower than 400kbps please, drop the sound quality down as well).

      Or could you  provide a manuscript please as I am interested in what Mike has to say.

      I wish I could of watched the video. 

    • Anthony

      Great video. Kinda funny though, I went to to check out the site mentioned in the video... they must've updated it because the current version of the site is using Flash :)

    • Chris

      The site seems to have been converted to Flash.  I wonder if SL just didn't have the installed base.

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